Wayne Terwilliger Dies at 95; Baseball Was His (Long) Life

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He began his career as a minor league player in 1948. He played and coached in the majors. He ended his career as a minor league coach in 2010.

Wayne Terwilliger got his first R.B.I. in professional baseball when he was beaned with the bases loaded in a 1948 minor league game. It was hardly an auspicious start. But he went on to become a baseball “lifer” and was still in uniform in 2010, closing out his career at age 85, a coach hitting fungoes in batting practice to minor leaguers.

Terwilliger died on Wednesday at 95 at a hospice in Weatherford, Texas, near Dallas. His death was confirmed by the St. Paul Saints, a minor league affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. He had been a manager and coach for the Saints when they were an independent team.

He had been treated for bladder cancer, but the cause of death was not given.

Terwilliger spent 62 years in pro ball. A major league second baseman before becoming a coach and manager, he was devoted to his craft with no expectation that it would ever make him wealthy.

Twig, as he was known in the baseball world, managed the Fort Worth Cats to the 2005 championship of the Central League, an independent professional circuit, at age 80. He was a coach with the team for five years after that.

He didn’t come close to Connie Mack as baseball’s oldest manager. But Mack, who managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years, also owned the team, so he could stick around in the dugout until he fired himself at age 87.

When Terwilliger got a game-winning pinch-hit single against the St. Louis Cardinals at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn shortly after being traded to the Dodgers in 1951, Jackie Robinson congratulated him.
via Wayne Terwilliger

Terwilliger played for nine seasons in the major leagues, with five teams. On the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers, he backed up Jackie Robinson at second base.

“I hit .240, which I like to say would get me $ 1.5 million these days,” Terwilliger told The St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1998, recalling his career batting average. “I should have been a better hitter. I could turn the double play as well as anybody. But I got a break coaching and being around all these great things.”

Terwilliger was a coach under Ted Williams when he managed the second Washington Senators franchise and its successor, the Texas Rangers, from 1969 to 1972.

He was a Rangers coach for five seasons in a second stint with the team in the 1980s, then was a coach for Manager Tom Kelly of the Twins, receiving championship rings when they won the World Series in 1987 and 1991.

Terwilliger was known mostly to baseball buffs, but he garnered cameo mentions in popular culture.

In his novel “Lake Wobegon Summer 1956” (2001), Garrison Keillor told of a radio broadcaster describing a batter for the Minneapolis Millers minor league team narrowly missing a home run, then telling listeners, “Now Wayne Terwilliger comes to the plate.”

“The crowd,” he added parenthetically, “goes back to sleep.”

In her memoir “An American Childhood” (1987), Annie Dillard told how her mother became intrigued by Terwilliger’s name when the radio broadcaster for a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Giants said, “Terwilliger bunts one.” In the years to come, her mother turned that phrase into a private joke.

“Testing a microphone, she repeated ‘Terwilliger bunts one,’” Ms. Dillard wrote. “Testing a pen or a typewriter, she wrote it.”

Terwilliger, a self-effacing sort, reprised the Keillor and Dillard vignettes in his 2006 memoir. Its title: “Terwilliger Bunts One.”

Willard Wayne Terwilliger was born on June 27, 1925, in Clare, Mich., a son of Ivan and Dorris Terwilliger. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Charlotte, Mich., where his father owned a bar. He served in combat with the Marines on Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima in World War II, then played baseball for what is now Western Michigan University and signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1948.

He made his Cubs debut in August 1949, then hit .242 with 10 home runs and 13 stolen bases in 1950.

Terwilliger was traded to the Dodgers as part of a multiplayer deal in June 1951. One of his small triumphs came a month later, when he got a game-winning pinch-hit single against the St. Louis Cardinals at Ebbets Field. He long cherished a photograph that showed Jackie Robinson congratulating him on the field.

He later played for the first Washington Senators franchise, the Giants and the Kansas City Athletics.

Associated Press

After working as a coach in the majors, Terwilliger returned to the minors as both manager and coach for the Saints as well as the Cats. He spent only one year away from baseball in his long career, when he operated his family-owned bar in Michigan in 1974.

Terwilliger had a son, Steve, and a daughter, Marcie, from his marriage to Mary Jane Locke, which ended in divorce. He had two stepchildren, Mike and Kevin, from his marriage to his second wife, Linda. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

Terwilliger never lost his enthusiasm for baseball.

“With a big head on a small body and bags under his eyes, he looks like an aged Tweety Bird in a baseball uniform,” Pat Jordan wrote in The New York Times in 2001.

But as the Fort Worth Cats infielder Byron Smith told The Associated Press during the team’s 2005 championship season: “No one even thinks of him as an old guy until somebody says something. He’s excited about being on the field and makes us young kids excited to be here.”

That same season, the Cats pitcher Logan Stout told The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss.: “He’s just amazing to watch when he’s out there doing batting practice and hitting fungoes. We just all hope we can still walk when we’re 80.”

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